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Jan 14, 2004

The War on Terrorism: The Worst and Best Books of 2003, Special to Site

The War on Terrorism: The Worst and Best Books of 2003.
The Worst

Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, “L’islam revolutionnaire”, (Editions du Rocher, Paris 2003.) Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal, the notorious terrorist and mass murderer, has weighed in on the war on terrorism from his Paris prison cell. In what must surely qualify as one of the more tasteless exercises in publishing history, Carlos holds forth windily about how the United States got what it deserved on 9/11 because of its imperialist policies.

Bernard-Henri Levy, “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” (Melville House, Hoboken New Jersey 2003) The renowned French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy has written a book that is supposedly a definitive investigation of the murder of Danny Pearl, but ends up being a lot about…the renowned French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy. Also the book lacks footnotes, which is very sloppy for a book that purports to be a serious investigation.

Robin Moore, “The Hunt for Bin Laden”, (Random House, New York, 2003). Robin Moore, who wrote “The Green Berets”, delivers an execrable book, littered with errors and written in a tendentious style intended to eulogize US Special Forces that ends up being simply embarrassing. For a more serious book on this subject we’ll have to wait for journalist Phil Smucker’s book, “Al Qaeda’s Great Escape”, which is forthcoming from Brasseys in 2004.

Laurie Mylroie, “Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror”. (Reganbooks, Harper Collins, New York, 2003). With no evidence to back up her assertions Mylroie writes that 9/11 was masterminded by Saddam Hussein’s intelligence services. President Bush himself has recently said that there is no evidence for this view. A longer article about Mylroie’s specious theories can be found on www.peterbergen.com:

Gore Vidal, “Dreaming War: Blood for Oil And the Cheney-Bush Junta”, (Thunder’s Mouth, New York, 2003). In a line of argument that reads like a boozy after-dinner speech to the Chomsky Rotarians, Vidal says that the Bush administration provoked the Sept. 11 attacks so that it would have an unassailable rationale to invade Afghanistan and gain control of the vast energy resources of Central Asia. Oy-veh!

Oriana Fallaci. “The Rage and The Pride”, (Rizzoli, New York 2003). Veteran journalist Oriana Fallaci came out of retirement to write this racist diatribe against Muslims. Fallaci’s book sold a million copies in her native Italy, so her operatic reinterpretation of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis amped up to fortissimo has found a wide audience.

Norman Mailer, “Why Are We At War?” (Random House, New York, 2003). “Why Are We at War?” is a thin book in every sense, consisting of meandering interviews and a reprinted lecture. As a result it is difficult to determine exactly why Mailer thinks we are at war. A longer review of Vidal, Fallaci and Mailer can be found at www.peterbergen.com.

The Best

Yosri Fouda and Nick Fielding, “Masterminds of Terror”, (Edinburgh, Mainstream Publishing, 2003). In the spring of 2002 Yosri Fouda of al Jazeera television spent two days interviewing the 9/11 planners, Ramzi bin al Shibh and Khalid Sheik Mohammed. This fascinating book details the 9/11 plot from the inside.

Marianne Pearl, “A Mighty Heart” (New York, Scribner 2003) The widow of journalist Danny Pearl has written a moving yet unsentimental tribute to her husband. She also details the investigation into her husband’s kidnapping and murder with admirable exactitude.

Jason Burke, “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror” (New York: I.B. Tauris 2003). An excellent book by British journalist Jason Burke based on his frontline reporting and deep research.

Jessica Stern, “Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill”, (New York, Ecco, 2003). Stern interviewed religious terrorists around the world for this book. Her chapter on Pakistan’s jihadists is especially strong.

Walter Laqueur, “No End to War: Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century” (Continuum, New York 2003) The dean of terrorism studies draws on a wide variety of Russian, Italian, French, German, Hebrew, Spanish and Arabic sources to provide a comprehensive and learned account of what terrorism in the 21st century is likely to look like. A longer review can be found at www.peterbergen.com

Bernard Lewis, “The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror”, (Modern Library, New York, 2003). Lewis elegantly and concisely tracks the crisis that is besetting the Muslim world, particularly in the Middle East. A longer review can be found at www.peterbergen.com.

Noah Feldman, After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy (Farah, Strauss, Giroux, New York, 2003). NYU law professor Noah Feldman eruditely makes the case for the compatibility of Islam and democracy.

Zachary Abuza, “Militant Islam in Southeast Asia: Crucible of Terror”, (Lynne Rienner, Boulder, Colorado, 2003). Academic Zachary Abuza has written what is likely to become the authoritative study of militant Islam in Southeast Asia.

Maria Ressa, “Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia” (Free Press, New York, 2003). Maria Ressa, CNN’s South East Asia bureau chief, has written a book that complements Abuza’s as Ressa’s focus is principally al Qaeda and her writing style more personal. The book is particularly strong on Ramzi Yousef’s and Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s sojourn in the Philippines during the mid-90s.

Dore Gold, “Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism”,(Regnery, Washington DC, 2003) Dore Gold, a former high-ranking Israeli diplomat, has written the best book on Saudi support for terrorism. The book is comprehensive and is written without the animus that has characterized other works on this subject.

Mark Kukis, “My Heart Became Attached: The Strange Journey of John Walker Lindh” (Brasseys, Washington 2003). Kukis tracks Lindh’s unlikely odyssey from California dreamer to Taliban foot soldier. (This book should be read in tandem with Jane Mayer’s excellent article about the Justice Department’s handling of Lindh’s case, “Lost in the Jihad”, The New Yorker, March 10, 2003.)

Abd Moussaoi, “Zacarias, My Brother: The Making of a Terrorist”
(Seven Stories Press, 2003) A slight, but nonetheless interesting, book about Zacarais Moussaoi. The book is really a tale of two brothers– one who chose moderate Islam, the other jihadist Islam.

George Soros, “The Bubble of American Supremacy: Correcting the Misuse of American Power” (Public Affairs, New York, 2003). The billionaire financier George Soros has written an important critique of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 foreign policy.

Peter Lance, “1000 Years for Revenge: International Terrorism and the FBI, the Untold Story”. (ReganBooks, Harper Collins, New York, 2003). There have been several books that have explored how the FBI and/or the CIA investigated al Qaeda. This is the most thoroughly researched one to date.

John Gray, “Al Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern”,(Faber & Faber, London, 2003). Leading British philosopher John Gray has written a short, but powerful riposte to the Whig notion that History has a direction and its direction is always onward and upward. Gray writes, “The suicide warriors who attacked Washington and New York did more than kill thousands of civilians and destroy the World Trade Center. They destroyed the West’s ruling myth”– the idea that we are becoming more scientific and more “modern”, and that as we become more modern we will all become more reasonable and more alike.

Paul Berman, “Terror and Liberalism”, (Norton, New York, 2003) Paul Berman has made what may be the most serious attempt yet to tackle 9/11 on a philosophical level. However, Berman’s somewhat superficial knowledge of Islam leads him to place “Binladenism” squarely in the tradition of other modern millennial totalitarian ideologies such as fascism and communism. This fails to comprehend the mental landscape of bin Laden’s followers for whom the 7th century world of the Prophet Mohammed is a profound and living reality. Nonetheless, Berman has written an important book.

Charles Enderlin, “Shattered Dreams; The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East 1995-2002”, (Other Press, New York, 2003) Veteran French journalist Charles Enderlin gained unprecedented access to both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the peace negotiations and has written a book that is required reading for anyone interested in this subject.

George Crile, “Charlie Wilson’s Story: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History”. (Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2003). 60 Minutes producer George Crile has written a lively account of how a colorful congressman from Texas, Charlie Wilson, played an instrumental role in funding the Afghan resistance against the Soviets. I suspect this book has already been optioned by Hollywood.

White Paper, “The Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests and the Threat of Terrorism” (Singapore, Ministry of Home Affairs 2003). This is an enormously through investigation of the jihadist movement in Singapore.

“Inquiry into the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001”. (The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Washington DC 2003) A great deal of useful information is contained in this massive report that can be accessed at http://news.findlaw.com/wp/docs/911rpt/

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UPCOMING EVENTS

Thursday, September, 05, 2019 Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), DC

Wednesday, September, 18, 2019 Global SOF Forum, New America DC

Tuesday, October, 15, 2019 Global Security Forum, Doha, Qatar

Tuesday, November, 19, 2019 9/ 11 Memorial Museum, NYC

Thursday, November, 21, 2019 2019 Modern Warfare Symposium, Ft. Bragg, NC

Tuesday, January, 28, 2020 2020 IFDA Dairy Forum, Scottsdale AZ

Tuesday, April, 28, 2020 Future Security Forum, DC

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RECENT FILM AND TV SERIES

2018

Six

2017

LEGION OF BROTHERS, CNN Films

2016

"We Got Him": President Obama, Bin Laden, and the Future of the War on Terror, CNN

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